Here are selected excerpts from the official text of the strong speech on judicial nominations that Senator McCain is scheduled to be delivering now:
In the end, of course, [the Framers’] grand solution was to allocate federal power three ways, reserving all other powers and rights to the states and to the people themselves. The executive, legislative, and judicial branches are often wary of one another’s excesses, and they should be. They seek to keep each other within bounds, and they are supposed to. And though you wouldn’t always know it from watching the day-to-day affairs of modern Washington, the framers knew exactly what they were doing, and the system of checks and balances rarely disappoints.
There is one great exception in our day, however, and that is the common and systematic abuse of our federal courts by the people we entrust with judicial power. For decades now, some federal judges have taken it upon themselves to pronounce and rule on matters that were never intended to be heard in courts or decided by judges. With a presumption that would have amazed the framers of our Constitution, and legal reasoning that would have mystified them, federal judges today issue rulings and opinions on policy questions that should be decided democratically. Assured of lifetime tenures, these judges show little regard for the authority of the president, the Congress, and the states. They display even less interest in the will of the people. And the only remedy available to any of us is to find, nominate, and confirm better judges.
Quite rightly, the proper role of the judiciary has become one of the defining issues of this presidential election. It will fall to the next president to nominate hundreds of qualified men and women to the federal courts, and the choices we make will reach far into the future. My two prospective opponents and I have very different ideas about the nature and proper exercise of judicial power. We would nominate judges of a different kind, a different caliber, a different understanding of judicial authority and its limits. And the people of America – voters in both parties whose wishes and convictions are so often disregarded by unelected judges – are entitled to know what those differences are.
Federal courts are charged with applying the Constitution and laws of our country to each case at hand. There is great honor in this responsibility, and honor is the first thing to go when courts abuse their power. The moral authority of our judiciary depends on judicial self-restraint, but this authority quickly vanishes when a court presumes to make law instead of apply it. A court is hardly competent to check the abuses of other branches of government when it cannot even control itself….
In the shorthand of constitutional discourse, these abuses by the courts fall under the heading of “judicial activism.” But real activism in our country is democratic. Real activists seek to make their case democratically – to win hearts, minds, and majorities to their cause. Such people throughout our history have often shown great idealism and done great good. By contrast, activist lawyers and activist judges follow a different method. They want to be spared the inconvenience of campaigns, elections, legislative votes, and all of that. They don’t seek to win debates on the merits of their argument; they seek to shut down debates by order of the court. And even in courtrooms, they apply a double standard. Some federal judges operate by fiat, shrugging off generations of legal wisdom and precedent while expecting their own opinions to go unquestioned. Only their favorite precedents are to be considered “settled law,” and everything else is fair game….
For both Senator Obama and Senator Clinton, it turned out that not even John Roberts was quite good enough for them. Senator Obama in particular likes to talk up his background as a lecturer on law, and also as someone who can work across the aisle to get things done. But when Judge Roberts was nominated, it seemed to bring out more the lecturer in Senator Obama than it did the guy who can get things done. He went right along with the partisan crowd, and was among the 22 senators to vote against this highly qualified nominee. And just where did John Roberts fall short, by the Senator’s measure? Well, a justice of the court, as Senator Obama explained it – and I quote – should share “one’s deepest values, one’s core concerns, one’s broader perspectives on how the world works, and the depth and breadth of one’s empathy.”
These vague words attempt to justify judicial activism – come to think of it, they sound like an activist judge wrote them. And whatever they mean exactly, somehow Senator Obama’s standards proved too lofty a standard for a nominee who was brilliant, fair-minded, and learned in the law, a nominee of clear rectitude who had proved more than the equal of any lawyer on the Judiciary Committee, and who today is respected by all as the Chief Justice of the United States. Somehow, by Senator Obama’s standard, even Judge Roberts didn’t measure up. And neither did Justice Samuel Alito. Apparently, nobody quite fits the bill except for an elite group of activist judges, lawyers, and law professors who think they know wisdom when they see it – and they see it only in each other.
I have my own standards of judicial ability, experience, philosophy, and temperament. And Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito meet those standards in every respect. They would serve as the model for my own nominees if that responsibility falls to me….
I will look for accomplished men and women with a proven record of excellence in the law, and a proven commitment to judicial restraint. I will look for people in the cast of John Roberts, Samuel Alito, and my friend the late William Rehnquist – jurists of the highest caliber who know their own minds, and know the law, and know the difference. My nominees will understand that there are clear limits to the scope of judicial power, and clear limits to the scope of federal power. They will be men and women of experience and wisdom, and the humility that comes with both. They will do their work with impartiality, honor, and humanity, with an alert conscience, immune to flattery and fashionable theory, and faithful in all things to the Constitution of the United States.